It’s not everyday the average person goes diving in the Red Sea or has an after-work cruise on the Nile River.
Jackie Redhage does both. In fact, she earned her Divemaster certification in the same body of water Moses and the Israelites are said to have crossed. And she really does go on the occasional Friday afternoon cruise with her colleagues on the river of the pharaohs.
Anything but average, Jackie is one of a select group of women who decided the time is right for change. Let’s meet three former Tidewater residents who chose to make big leaps and fresh starts in midlife by moving to new cities. At the edge of their comfort zones and in places they never imagined, these ladies are starting over again.
Two and a half years ago, Jackie, now 48, was an Early Language Learners (ELL) teacher in Virginia Beach and lived in a one-bedroom apartment. Today she’s still teaching ELL students, but she walks five minutes to school and lives in a three-bedroom apartment (with a cleaning lady!) in an affluent area of her city. Her larger digs cost less than her place here at the beach cost.
Jackie’s current “home sweet home”? Cairo, Egypt.
The youngest of four children, Jackie grew up in what she describes as an average suburban neighborhood in northern Virginia. She never pictured herself as a great adventurer; but after graduate school, she found herself without a job and accepted an opportunity to teach in a new school in Honduras.
She stayed two years in Central America, walking everywhere and living a very health-conscious life. But a return to the States at age 30 found her partying, not exercising, and unhappy with the change in lifestyle. She decided to seek an “island” lifestyle and headed to the Dominican Republic to teach, staying there for two years before moving here to Tidewater and getting married.
After her marriage ended, Jackie felt “stuck” in her routine of work and life, like she was going nowhere. A spring break trip to Portugal in 2013 reminded her how much she liked living and working abroad, and she said to herself, “I can change my life, and I want to change my life.”
Posting her resume with an international teacher placement service resulted in two job offers, and Jackie chose to accept a position at Cairo American College. She’s lived two years in Cairo and enjoys a simple, comfortable life. She doesn’t own a car, frequently connects with friends over coffee, and has learned to be more mindful. “Not everything has to be immediate,” she says. Her new life gives her the opportunity to travel to corners of the world that were previously unthinkable, places like Bali and Cambodia.
Exotic new digs aside, Jackie says she misses Tidewater: the beaches, the fresh air, the public library, the Navy jets. Last year, during a brief trip back to visit friends, she heard those jets overhead as she drove down Virginia Beach Boulevard and started to cry. “This is home,” she thought. And, indeed, it was home for over a decade.
Jackie advises women who are contemplating a big move to make a plan and then take the time to wrap their heads around it and give their families time to accept it. She also advocates having a backup plan.
If she tires of Cairo and once again gets the itch to move, Jackie still wants to continue her international teaching career. She also holds space in her life for a special relationship, should one develop. And when her time on earth is over, what might her epitaph be?
Says the traveling teacher, “There she goes again!”
When Kim Wheeler found herself alone, roaming the halls of her 6600-square foot Virginia Beach home, she realized she was being swallowed up in memories. Newly single with two adult children, she says she felt “hollow.” Add to that all the home maintenance chores that fell solely on her, and she decided to pick up and move... to California.
After going through several major life-altering events in a relatively short time period—including two bouts with cancer, the passing of her mother, and divorce—the 57-year-old Georgia native was craving something different. Major changes had happened to a life that admittedly had become a bit too routine.
“When your life as you knew it gets ripped out from under you,” she says, “you hit the reset button.” Kim gave that button a hard push.
She sold her large home and furniture and rented a friend’s house for two months. While there, she decided to move to San Diego to be near her son who was recovering from injuries. She began to give voice to her decision, telling family and friends, “I’m moving to California.” They enthusiastically affirmed her choice.
With only four suitcases in tow, Kim headed west.
Today she lives in a 1200-square foot rental house with a detached writer’s cottage. She can walk to the beach and savor amazing Pacific sunsets. She has new friends, and she sees her son regularly. She also enjoys driving around everywhere and exploring her new environment. “There’s something renewing in not knowing where you are going,” Kim says.
She went to California without a job, but now she has two! While looking at memberships at a YMCA that overlooks the Pacific, she was offered a position as a wellness coach. Shortly after, she accepted a position with her former East Coast employer to host movie screenings in San Diego area theaters. The woman who was formerly wrapped up in memories and routine now says, “I feel like everyday I’m in paradise.”
Kim encourages women whose lives have become habitual to consider moving. “Being in a new environment forces you to grow,” she says, “and you can see the world though a different set of eyes.”
She advises women to research before making the big move. “Don’t jump into the water!” she says.
Kim suggests visiting the place you are considering as a new home. If finances aren’t an issue, consider renting a property for a few months and getting to know the area and people. And once you know you’re ready, start putting it out there.
“Speak it into your life, and try it on for size,” she advises.
A resident of Hampton Roads for over 18 years, Kim served on several nonprofit boards, including the Virginia Aquarium and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). She was well connected and knew people everywhere she went. She raised her family in the area and had a strong sense of belonging and comfort. She misses that comfort and her friends in the area.
Yet she chose to leave the familiar behind and is enjoying this next chapter of her life over 3,000 miles away. “It’s scary,” she says, “but it’s more scary standing still and not feeling you’re in control of your life.”
Besides, she’s raised her children and they have their own lives and careers. “Now,” she says, “I’m raising me.”
Lucia Scarano will never forget the day her parents sent her to live with her grandparents in Italy for a year. As the little girl held tightly to her grandfather’s hand, she heard her mother say, “Lucia, don’t look back.”
These days, the 59-year-old actress and teacher is focused on the road ahead, a road—or an ocean—that just might lead back to her Italian roots.
In September, Lucia left Tidewater, her home for 30 years, and migrated to Atlanta, the nation’s #1 locale for film and TV, surpassing both Los Angeles and New York. The Screen Actors Guild member has an impressive acting resume that includes over 13 major films, 14 television shows, and numerous theater productions and commercials. She views her move as a way to continue doing what she loves in an area ripe with opportunity. It’s a very different situation and a very different life from the one she was living a couple of years ago.
After her 28-year marriage ended in divorce, the mother of three sold her house in one day and moved into an apartment. She made new friends, stayed involved in her church, and continued to pursue acting roles. But acting jobs started to dwindle, and Lucia asked herself, “Am I aging out?”
It turns out most of her fellow actors in the area were dealing with the same situation: The jobs just weren’t there. So she started looking for a supplementary job and became a LuLaRoe Fashion Retailer. However, she felt she just wasn’t growing in her life.
Then came a wake-up call. Her father, a heart surgeon, with whom she was very close, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2016. Following surgery, he was cancer free for about three months. The cancer returned, though, and he passed in early last December.
Lucia will never forget her father’s words as he summed up his life. “Lucia, I have no regrets.”
The doctor’s daughter decided at that point that she, too, wanted to live her life with no regrets. Four months later, she began planning her move to Atlanta.
These days she enjoys the quiet community where she rents a 1300-square foot apartment. It’s a drastic change from the large homes she owned in Hampton Roads. She has learned that she doesn’t need much, and like Kim, she enjoys driving around and exploring. She also hit the ground running to auditions and recently landed her first role as a school principal in a new TV series.
The now landlocked actress misses our beaches, as well as her two children who live here and her many friends. She also laments that her children no longer have a “home base” to visit. But she’s happy to have pushed herself out of her comfort zone. The move affirmed for her that she is a strong woman. Her kids and their friends admire her gutsiness, declaring her “the bomb” and telling her she’s “awesome.”
Lucia challenges women to picture themselves in five years doing what they are doing now and ask, “Will I be happy?” She is also a big fan of having a backup plan.
Her own is to move to Italy, where she has dual citizenship, and where she can pictures herself walking through vineyards, maybe her own. Lucia has long thought about moving back to Italy, even before she got married decades ago. Italy is her Plan B if life and work in Atlanta don’t meet her needs and professional growth.
“We miss out on so much because we won’t leave our comfort zone,” she says. “But if you don’t enjoy your own company,” she adds, “you can’t do this.”
Lucia obviously enjoys her own company because, like Jackie Redhage and Kim Wheeler, she’s writing a new chapter in her life and on new turf. All three former Tidewater women have learned that they are strong and courageous and that it is possible to reinvent your life.
Jackie thinks about teaching in a different country when’s she’s ready to leave Cairo. Kim, too, is keeping her options open for another adventure.
And Lucia? She’s not looking back. In fact, if you look deep in her eyes, you just might see a vineyard in the Italian countryside!